Archive for June, 2009

The Perfect Storm!

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

3rd Sunday of Pentecost, June 21, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In October of 1991, the “Andrea Gail” left Gloucester, Mass. and headed for the fishing grounds of the North Atlantic. Two weeks later, an event took place that had never occurred in recorded history. A storm stronger than anything ever recorded hit the coast off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was called the “Perfect Storm” —because it was three storms combined into one, and it created an almost apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean.  Boats in the area encountered waves of 100 feet— the equivalent of a ten-story building. These storms are some of the strongest and most terrifying manifestations of nature’s strength.

JESUS DON’T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE DYING? Dear friends, our central problem isn’t the storms of life, but rather it’s our obsessive focus on the storms alone.  You see, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us when our attention is riveted on the waves outside and the water inside the boat.  Despair and fear develop rapidly when our energy is focused on survival.  Many times, those storms of life seem to be un-survivable — and that’s a fair perception; after all, one day, one of those storms, will be the one that carries us off to heaven.  Within this perspective of fear and despair it’s not easy to believe that God is on the job when the waves are in your face, and your boat is quickly filling with unwelcomed water!  

 

Sometimes, when we encounter these life storms, we can become like Job and his friends; we want to understand the storms. And so we ask, “God don’t you care that I’m in trouble?”  We desperately want to know “why”.  Why did I lose my job?  Why can’t I find a job?  Why did my love one die?  Why am I so sick? Why, why, WHY!?  We ask why because we hope that knowing the answer will calm our fear about the unknown, but our best efforts to understand the mysterious infinity of God’s Mind are continually frustrated by the feeble limits of our own human intellect.  To our whys, God answers us with His own question, HOW: “How can you the creature ever understand I your Creator?”  But this isn’t the answer we want to hear.  We want God to explain Himself.  So, our sinful nature loses sight of God’s love for us and we instead focus on our worry and fear.

 

 The truth is friends, God’s love and grace sounds good to all of us at first.  We will quickly trust in His love, but sadly, many Christians have stopped right there and they’ve never really let God’s presence in their lives penetrate and change them, so that the power of God’s love and grace can create a strong faith within them. Then, when the storms of life come, the littleness of their faith appears. And when this weak faith becomes evident, Jesus exclaims, “How cowardly you are!”

 

Jesus scolded the apostles for their fear.  He had the right to expect more from them.  But they had no right to be afraid even if Jesus wasn’t in the boat with them. Jesus had showed them so many times that as His disciples they were always in His Father’s care. They also should have known that even if they died in that storm, all things would have worked together for their own good because they were Jesus own!  Friends, like the disciples in the boat, we too have no promise that life’s dangers won’t result in our death just because we are Christ’s own. In the counsel of God it may be his will that we die, and if that is the case, then we will die with the great assurance that God’s love sends us what is best. God wants us to die in confidence and not in fear.  So in the middle of our storms of fear and worry, we too are encouraged to wake up the sleeping Savior within us and call to Him for faith and comfort.


To all of these fears and worries, Jesus says, “PEACE BE STILL!”
  Isn’t it amazing that those lifelong fishermen in the boat with Jesus, men who made their living on this very sea should wake up and call out to a land-loving carpenter for help?  They were completely at the end of their resources, skills that they had always taken great pride in; now they humbly threw themselves upon Jesus as their only source of hope. They didn’t care that he had never sailed a boat; they weren’t looking for human help but instead divine hope. They had abandoned all hope in human ability, and instead they placed their trust entirely into the divine hands of Jesus.  That was faith. But their terror, the resorting to Jesus only as their last hope, made their faith little, and that was in glaring contrast with the peace of Jesus who was at that very moment teaching them to rest in the Father’s love.  

 

This morning dear friends, God wants us to see that one of the ways to see our faith matured is to simply lose confidence in our own strength, and then learn to rely completely on Jesus’ real presence in our lives. That was the lesson that Job learned, when God challenged him to explain the universe and life: ” ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’ ” (38:2, 4). How could Job and how can we ever come close to real knowledge if we don’t first see how God has all things under his control, including the boundaries of the great deep (v. 11)?

 

This morning friends, at this very moment God wants to strengthen your faith with the gospel… with the good news.  He wants to take away your fear and worry so that you can rest in His love.  But before you can receive this good news, He says to you, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

Whether we come to God with weak faith or strong faith, He wants us to know that whenever we cry out to Him from the storms of life, He hears us. Many years ago, graffiti was found on the walls of a bombed out cellar in Cologne, Germany, and its message illustrates our constant hope in God: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.  I believe in love even when I feel it not.  I believe in God even when he is silent.”  Dear friends God does hear you.  And He answers you with the living Words of Jesus Christ!

 

WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?  HAVE YOU NO FAITH?   For most of us, when we hear this question we tend to think of it as God’s Law accusing us of not trusting in Him, but this question of Jesus should also be heard as the gospel when we remember who is speaking. This is the Christ who has climbed into the boat with us and endured the storms for us. He is the one who has died for all and was raised again for us! It’s not just the wind and sea, but also death and hell that obey him.

 

Through His completed work for us upon the cross we are a new creation; through His Word and sacraments we are able to trust in His real presence with us when our own storms over power us. Through His presence, our little faith becomes strong faith.  Because of him we don’t ever have to fear the storms of life again, for we know that through Him, God the Father is for us and not against us. Even our own sin is unable to snatch us from Christ’s grasp, and no storm of life can rip us away from his love. The waters of your own baptism have splashed your faces with far more power than all of the world’s storms combined. Because the love of Christ controls us we can trust in God’s kind heart, and through His love for us, all of our fears can be erased.

 

Dear friends, in response to our cry, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?” God doesn’t offer us understanding, but instead he offers precious promises. He who said ‘Thus far and no farther” to the surging waves of the angry seas, says to us, “Fear not, for I am with you always.”  He assures us that he knows what we can’t understand, and He is able to handle what we can’t.  

The story is told of a young art student, who was asked by his professor to paint a picture of perfect peace. So he began to do just that. As time was drawing near for his task to be completed his professor made his rounds in the class. And as he approached the young man he was surprised at what he saw. You see the young man had painted storm clouds, war, sickness, and death. But in the middle of it all was this tree, and on one of its branches was a little bird with its wings spread wide, and it looked as if this bird was singing. So his professor scratched his head and said I thought the assignment was to paint perfect peace. And the young man responded by saying “I did.” He went on to say “You see the little bird was at peace with his surroundings because he believed in Christ’s promise that he would not put more on him than he could bear. Unlike some of us, this little bird knew that at any time the God he serves was able to fill his tiny wings with a wind from on high and he could fly away to a better place, a perfect place that was prepared especially for him!”

Today friends, Jesus calls us to go with Him in the boat.  There will be storms, but He will always be in the boat with us as we pass through the storms.  While He is with us He is teaching us to trust Him and have faith—Faith in the Fathers love!  Oh yes, there will be times when it will seem as though God is silent; as if Jesus is sleeping, but fear not little lambs, even though He appears to sleep, He’s with you in the boat.  Take comfort friends, because the one who sleeps is also the one who never sleeps.  He is the God-man.  He has permitted the storms to come your way so that you may know and trust your Savior deeper than you could ever imagine.  But one day your very last life storm will come, and that will be the perfect storm, because it will come to take you to your perfect home where all storms will cease; and this will be according to the perfect love of your Heavenly Father and your Savior and friend, Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: “O God our Defender, there are right now storms raging around us and within us, and they are causing us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief, unbelief that tries so hard to separate us from your eternal love.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

God Is Love!

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.  The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have suffered and died upon the cross for you! [1] 

 

I. God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

 

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was sent by these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

 

You see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

II. Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, the entire God came to us.  Our Creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.   

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived a sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus! [Jn 3]  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart when we hear the sweet words of absolution, which in turn continually moves us to come to God in prayer, knowing by faith that He hears our confession and will always forgive and love us.

 

III. Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  When we cry out in confession, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a sinner, and I live in the midst of a society of sinners,” God in His love for us, through His Holy Spirit, touches our hearts with the Gospel, and says, “Behold, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” [Is. 6:4-8]  And by the work of the same Spirit, God speaks to our hearts and asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go out to the world for us?”  And by the work of the same Spirit we are moved to respond, “Here am I!  Send me!” [Is. 6:8]

 

 Friends, the mission of the church is your mission!  It comes from the heart of the Father, and from the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for everyone.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  [John 3:16]

If the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what part does God the Holy Spirit play?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED! 

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited us to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for God?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word and how your faith is nourished at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission that is powered by the Holy Spirit!

 

CONCLUSION: Well this morning dear friends, we have learned that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united together as one in love; in love for each other and God’s love for us, and together we are led together by faith so that God may strengthen and grow His Church which is centered in His love.  And to this truth let’s bow our heads and pray:  “Teach us to love our neighbor dear Lord as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are always One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  …AMEN!

 


A paraphrase of an idea expressed in a professional paper by Rev. Rolf Preus-ALC April 2003